Archive for June, 2010


Friday, June 25th, 2010

This is my current Christmas List, updated as of October 19, 2010.

  1. Hyperactivitypography is pure type candy, and I want need it.
  2. Wacom Bamboo Pen+Touch looks to be smaller, sleeker, and better overall than my old Graphire. I want pen and touch, even though the one-or-the-other packages cost less. You can get a Pen+Touch on sale for $80, if you keep your eyes open.
  3. Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, which is awesome.
  4. Hard-Boiled Web Design, by Andy “Malarkey” Clarke, which has a limited run of 2500 prints. This is going to be the best book on this subject all year.
  5. Mots d’Heures: Gousses, Rames is Mother Goose rhymes transliterated to pseudo-French.
  6. Kingston DataTraveller Ultimate 3.0 flash drive, 32GB (or 16, I guess). Follow the links to Amazon or NewEgg.
  7. I’d really love a 160-lumen version of the flashlight I have now, but it seems nearly impossible to find something like that.
  8. Windy31 USB Router is actually more of a ‘maybe’ item for me, but I’ll include it here anyway.

On Curation

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

As website owners and content creators, we have a duty toward the users of our content. When we blog about something, the information we throw to the world could very well become dated and wrong.

What Can We Do?

When you write about a modern topic, that post is almost guaranteed to become stale and useless, if it sits the way it is. As such, there are a few things you might do:

  • Keep a clear separation between posts you’re willing to curate, and those that are simply snapshots of life (real blog posts)
  • Set a kill-time for each (curated) post when you create it; after which it is no longer viewable by the public, and becomes hidden until you can revisit it and freshen it up
  • Allow errata to be submitted to curated pieces, so that readers can help you improve the article
  • Keep a list of the curated pieces, possibly by listing links to those pieces on a separate page

I’m thinking of doing the above with this blog. Some of the posts I’ve written won’t be useful in the near future, and others should be upkept so they always provide correct information. Perhaps I’ll implement these steps in the next iteration of my design.


Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

You’ve got your coffee, you’ve got your latest presentation open, and you can start work on its slides. You notice a new email in your taskbar. You open your mail. It’s one of those crummy daily news emails you’ve set a rule for that throws it into another folder.
You minimize that application, and look at the blank PowerPoint slide. Then you notice there’s a new blog in your feed reader. It’s a link from Daring Fireball’s John Gruber, pointing to another silly thing said by some pundit about some apple product. Okay, whatever.
Back to your work. The slide is still blank, but suddenly your cell-phone buzzes with an incoming text-message.

Is it important?
Then why are you being notified of it at that exact moment?

In today’s day and age, the killer of productivity is distraction. And yet, we need an unprecedented amount of communication to keep stride in our large companies. We need to keep up-to-date with all the latest information. Can we really afford to put that all away and sit in the resulting silence?

What time does what need?

But there’s no reason you have to be alerted to everything you’re subscribed to. All you need to do is limit what gets your premium time. So, what do you need to drop everything for?

  • Your significant other(s) or other family members (if they never send spam)
  • Your team leaders, bosses, or stakeholders at work
  • Specific professionals, such as your family doctors or your dentists
  • Other sources that will most likely provide time-critical information

There are certain times, throughout your day, when you should take a break to unwind and digest information. During this period, it’s usually safe to catch up on emails. You’ve doubtless got tons of junk stuff to read through each day, so you should limit what you see during this time:

  • Most other non-volume email
  • Text messages
  • Blogs or other news sources you’ve labelled under ‘important’
  • Things like Google Wave

Finally, towards the end of the day (and, possibly, also first thing in the morning), you will want everything else:

  • Spam and volume email
  • All those other blog feeds

You’ll have to fit Twitter in there, somewhere. Some people check the entire stream, if they’re following few people, which would fit in that second category. Others have a constant stream of updates, which takes some practice to read without breaking concentration.

How would it work?

So what do these simple rules mean for development? How can they be implemented?

  • Allow the email inbox to be sorted into folders: Spam, for supposed spam, Important, for contacts we list as important, and Inbox, for everything else
  • Allow feed items (or whole folders in your feed reader) to be marked ‘important’
  • Allow specific contacts/items/pages/things/places/nouns/etc. in whatever other programs to be marked as Important or not

And then:

  • Every few minutes, update the Important email messages
  • Every two hours, or on some specific time-map set by you, update the non-spam email, the important feed items, Google Wave items, text messages, and such
  • At 8:00am and 5:00pm (or whatever time you set), update the rest of the emails, the rest of the feeds, and, really, the rest of everything else that would otherwise have distracted you during the day.

Obviously, this would all work better if there was an all-in-one application that gathered your emails, tweets, waves, feeds, texts, status updates, and more all in one place.

This note is, obviously, directed at implementors. You all have a responsibility toward your users! Make the most of their time, and help them (us!) become more productive. Too many programs are shoddy, and we can all do better.

The Awesome Foundation

Friday, June 18th, 2010

I’ve started the wheels turning on this, so it’s time I talked here at length about my ideas.

The Awesome Foundation is an organization founded in Boston in 2009 to make things awesome. The idea is simple and powerful: Ten people come together, each donates $100/month, and the resulting $1000 grant goes to whichever applicant was judged to have the most awesome project.

To date, there have been grants given for microbial laser tractor-beams, a materials petting-zoo, bio-inks, peer-to-peer cellphone networks, grassroots mapping, and more, from chapters created in San Francisco, Providence, New York City, Boston, Ottawa, and London.

Now: I want to create one in Winnipeg. I’ve notified the Foundation, I’ve created a Twitter account, I’ve talked to the local creatives, and I’m writing this here. Things are falling into place, and I hope we’ll be able to give our first grant within the next two months.
There’s lots to do!

Netbooks are Great!

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

I’ve said similar things before, but it wasn’t until today that I realized how much I love netbooks. Someone showed a bit of interest, so I threw up a great tirade of excited chatter.

Netbooks are good for nearly everything you do on a computer. If you want to do high-level rendering or leading-edge gaming (by which I mean something made in the last ten years), you can get a desktop system with a powerful CPU for only a few hundred dollars.

If you really need a lot of storage, well, that’s not what a netbook is for. You can very well get a two-terabyte external USB drive, and either lug it around or not. With the netbook itself, 40 GB is plenty (16GB SSD + 16GB SD + 8GB USB Drive).

It has a great keyboard, it has a powerful wireless card, and its—to use Steve Job’s favourite word—magical to tilt and flip in your hands. And for $200? You’re getting more than you paid for, certainly.

A couple things:

  • The battery isn’t perfect. I’ve come to realize that the power cord really holds me down, like an anchor on a boat. It’s also kind of long and gangly, and isn’t a joy to pack up between plug-ins. The battery should last about sixteen hours, in a perfect world; then I could just plug it in at night.
  • I got it at such a low clearance price because the tech is kind of old. The SSD performs a bit worse than a hard-disk drive, which is really saying something. An upgrade would only cost $100, and it’ll be zippy as hell, but I have to find the right offering, first, and get it shipped to me (PATA ZIF SSDs are relatively uncommon, and slower than the newer interfaces). Then I’d have to reinstall Windows.
  • It’s great to have with you, but… no-one has yet thought about how to carry it? I need some sort of Netbook Holster. Backpacks are unwieldy, and I want both hands free. My custom-made extra-pocket is kind of crappy, and rips too often to walk around with it like I want to.

Those are minor complaints. SSDs are incredibly young, and I can just upgrade the drive. I can make a better holster within a few days, with the proper materials. I can get an extended battery, which would last six hours, at least, and that number would increase if I installed a power-smart OS.

There are two things the iPad did that seems to completely fly over everyone else’s heads: The battery life is all-day, so there’s no power cord tying you down; and the entire experience is snappy and smooth, due to its speed.
Netbooks could do those things, and then they would be awesome. Plus, you’d be able to use all your Windows executables; that’s something the iPad can’t do.

Mac Mini

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Have you seen the new Mac Mini? It’s a tiny little seven-inch-square box, an inch-and-a-half high. And yet it’s got a Core 2 Duo (2.6 GHz) processor, two slots for DDR3 RAM, and a massive video card, all for $699.

I’ve never bought a Mac, but this certainly makes it tempting.

Pixies per Inch

Monday, June 7th, 2010

Since the Apple event, everyone has been going mad over resolutions. The main difficulty, as far as I can tell, is that the subject has never been broached, and so people haven’t been told what to think.
“I’ve been using 100 dpi (or less) for ever years, and it’s suited me fine,” they say.

So, what is the resolution of the human eye? It’s hotly contested, of course, and there doesn’t appear to be a standard way of measuring. In general, though, you would measure a line pair to find the distance or the print size at which those lines blend together.
A quick test on my 100dpi monitor puts it at about three feet, for me. Other research has shown various measurements, such as about 125 line-pairs per inch at about foot. The important thing to realize is that those are line-pairs, not rows of pixels. You would need two pixels to render parallel lines, so the resolution is more like 250 dpi. This is the realm where the average human eye starts having problems, but there are, of course, many different edge cases where people could see individual pixels even at this resolution and this distance. 300 dpi has been accepted in popular belief as the general limit of human eye-graininess. If you want high fidelity, of course, 600 dpi is good. If someone were examining a material at close range, 1200 is better, though 2400 is probably what you’d want for anything of truly high quality.

So, as far as monitors go, 200 dpi is just fine at a length of two or three feet. Once you get one foot away or closer, as mobile devices usually are held, you’ll want something higher; at 400-600 dpi.

If you got a huge 1920×1200 display at only 200 pixels per inch, it would measure 2,264 pixels diagonally, which works out to 11.32″. At 224 pixels per inch, you could fit that into a netbook.

Of course, such technology could be prohibitively expensive, so we’re likely to stick with increasing the density of smaller mobile screens, for now. Besides; I don’t believe we have the infrastructure to be shuttling movies around in quad-HD.

Communication Design

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

I was reading something Dave Seah wrote (; you may want to subscribe to him), and that got me thinking about basic things and definitions.

We’re all familiar with copywriters and editors. But what are they, really? In general, copy is text, though it’s usually used in a promotional manner. ‘Editing’ has a better description:

Editing is the process of selecting and preparing language, images, sound, video, or film through processes of correction, condensation, organization, and other modifications in various media.
A person who edits is called an editor.

Let’s boil that down:

Editing is the process of designing communication.

When you edit something, you’re designing it to fit objectives and requirements. What do you edit? Language, images, sound, video, or film? That’s all communication. As Wikipedia puts it:

Communication is a process of transferring information from one entity to another. Communication processes are sign-mediated interactions between at least two agents which share a repertoire of signs and semiotic rules. Communication is commonly defined as “the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs”.

There are things we share with each-other: memes, shapes, sights, smells; other sensory stimuli. These can be wrapped as a whole and called ‘signs’. Some, like language, are incredibly rich and complex, while others are base and are shared by most humans. Some people have no access to certain signs.

A communication designer takes a message and designs it—readies it for a large, diverse audience and makes the message clear and understandable by encoding it with a variety of shared signs.